And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.Ephesians 6:18
Out of all the armor listed in Ephesians 6 there is one major weapon missing that Roman soldiers would have always had with them. The spear was their main offensive weapon. While fighting may have eventually devolved into hand-to-hand sword fighting, it would have started with a phalanx of shields and spears.
While Paul doesn’t specifically call prayer the “spear of the Spirit,” by putting it last in the list, that is the impression we get. By the time Paul got to the end of this list of armor, the Ephesians would have all been wondering, “But what about the spear?” Its absence was too conspicuous to miss. By Paul concluding with the need for prayer “on all occasions” he was saying that prayer is our main offensive weapon, just like the spear for the Romans.
But what is praying in the Spirit? Is Paul talking about praying in tongues here?
In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul does connect praying in the Spirit with praying in tongues:
For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding. Otherwise when you are praising God in the Spirit, how can someone else, who is now put in the position of an inquirer, say “Amen” to your thanksgiving, since they do not know what you are saying? You are giving thanks well enough, but no one else is edified.1 Corinthians 14:14-17
I believe praying in tongues is one of the ways to pray in the Spirit but is not the only way. I believe praying in the Spirit means that we are not just saying cursory prayers, but that we are connected to the Holy Spirit as we pray. I believe we are praying in the Spirit any time we connect our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit’s leading as we pray.
When we pray in the Spirit, we not only launch javelins in the spirit realm for the sake of the people we are praying for, but there is also a “building up” that happens to us as we pray. Jude says:
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.Jude 1:20-21
In Romans, Paul articulates how praying in connection to the Holy Spirit helps us as we pray:
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.Romans 8:26-27
In the Ephesians 6 passage, Paul is clear that praying in the Spirit can take the form of “all kinds of prayers and requests.” This means that praying in the Spirit can look like intercession, prayer of petition, prayer of command, prayer of praise, declarations, praying in tongues, and even just silent listening prayer as we wait on the Lord. Praying in the Spirit is more about the connection between our heart and the heart of God and less about what comes out of our mouths.
Some of the most powerful prayers I’ve ever prayed were never articulated in words at all. They were times when I was simply weeping over someone as my heart connected to the heart of God.